The Ranger by Ace Atkins

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The Ranger by Ace Atkins

Category: Crime
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Ranger Sergeant Quinn Colson heads home for a family funeral and he gets tangled up in more than just the question of whether his ex-Sheriff uncle really killed himself. Easily and justifiably criticisable for cliché strands, it stands up as a good read purely on pace, place and the need to follow it through.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 339 Date: March 2013
Publisher: Corsair
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781472100313

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Every so often I read a book which just confirms how little I know about the USA. I don't quite understand the political system. I certainly don't understand the law enforcement system (and don't like the bits I do 'get'; I fear that our UK leaders seem to think that the politicisation of law enforcement that seems to be the norm over there is actually a good idea). And every so often I come across a branch of the military that I'd never heard of.

In this case: the Rangers. For those as ignorant as me, let's get the background out of the way. Those who know we're not talking about a Scottish football team can skip ahead.

The Rangers are the elite infantry of US Army. The term was first used in the early 17th century. The first ranger company was officially commissioned in 1676 and they were used in the four French and Indian Wars, the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. In modern times they've been deployed in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We'll not talk about their other adventures in what are euphemistically called 'conflicts'. If Wiki is accurate the current Ranger Regiment traces its lineage to three of six battalions raised in WWII, and to the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) — known as 'Merrill's Marauders,' and then reflagged as the 475th Infantry, then later as the 75th Infantry. It has its own training school at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Do you need to know any of this to enjoy Atkins' first Colson book The Ranger? Probably not, but the assumptions the book makes about its readers do mean that some of the snippets will make more sense to you if you get the context.

Just in case that last sentence is read the wrong way: I'm happy that authors make assumptions about their readers. I've got no problem with having to go away and look stuff up. I'm likely to severely slate any book that feels the need to tell me every last little thing.

Quinn Colson hails from the hill country of north east Mississippi. He's a ranger, just back from Afghanistan and heading home for a funeral. His uncle is dead. He knows his mother is unlikely to be there and someone from the family should be. Uncle Hamp (Hampton Beckett to give him is proper name) had been County Sheriff; it wouldn't look right if no-one showed from the family. The rest of the county weren't exactly out in force either. Twenty people on a rain-sodden day makes for a sad occasion. Sadder still when Quinn learns that Uncle Hamp shot himself.

That's the official story at any rate. There are those, including Deputy Lillie Virgil, who think otherwise.

As if Quinn wasn't already coming home to a place not the place he remembered (as if it ever is) he picked up another measure of trouble on the way in. Lena is way too young to be pregnant and walking and hitching across state lines looking for the father. His name is Jody and she has an idea where he might be.

Tangled webs and intertwined ones are always the stuff of crime, and we know all of these paths will cross.

Quinn doesn't start out with any idea of doing any sort of investigation or protection or anything. He just plans to go to the funeral, see his Mam, see if she knows where his sister might have got herself to lately, catch up with a few old friends and go back to base.

It isn't any one thing that changes his mind… stuff just builds up. Family secrets, town secrets, corruption, drug gangs and organised crime all slowly filter into a mix he knows he's not going to be able to walk away from.

And of course, there's Lena, who, in an unguarded moment he offered to help if she ever needed it.

If the closed room murder is the quintessential English crime story, then the American equivalent is the backwoods town suicide. Like its English equivalent it is claustrophobic in setting. The wide open ranges, the hills, the woods, the mighty Mississippi and all don't close it down any. Everyone knows everyone. And everyone has an opinion. Though not everyone wants to share it. The cast of characters is limited and largely fixed. A few more will drift in during the tale, but mostly you know it’s there somewhere already in what you see.

With Lillie Virgil as his way into crime scenes and official records and an old army buddy (albeit a combat-wounded one) to watch his six, Quinn with his elite Ranger training has all the savvy, all the physical skills and fitness and weapons training to do what needs to be done. The fact that he resorts to a bow at one point harks back to his backwoods deer-stalking with the clan, rather than his army training.

For a newcomer to Atkins with no knowledge of his own pedigree (this is far from his first book) it's hard for me to ignore the echoes of Jack Reacher. Though unlike Reacher, thus far at least Quinn Colson is still a serving soldier and has every intention of heading back out with his unit. His own past is pretty clean. That said, I found Colson less likeable than Reacher. There didn't seem to be any soft core to counter the cold responses.

The other characters aren't developed in any meaningful sense.

It's more hot-shot action stuff than genuine mystery. The outplay doesn't spring any surprises, but for all that it reads well enough the keep the pages turning. Good solid entertainment. It's not going to go down in the annals of classic crime (whatever the Elmore Leonard quote on the front suggests) and it didn't leave me seeking out the next instalment… but I did rattle through it caught up in the action.

For more stories - albeit very different ones - from the deep south you might enjoy Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman or Dead Men's Dust by Matt Hilton

Buy The Ranger by Ace Atkins at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Ranger by Ace Atkins at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Ranger by Ace Atkins at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Ranger by Ace Atkins at Amazon.com.


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